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Magical Relationship Wisdom  

I was at a business conference in late April and early May and had an opportunity to meet Penn Jillette and hear him talk. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, Penn is the tall, talkative member of the magic duo, Penn and Teller. They are the pair who make a big part of their show revealing how magic tricks are actually done.

Penn was at the conference to talk about his career and applications of that to business and marketing, but I want to take an important relationship lesson from something he said. During a question and answer period he was asked about his relationship with Teller, the shorter, quiet part of the duo. Penn said that outside of their professional collaboration, they really spend very little time together, perhaps getting together once or twice a year. They are very different people, like different activities, and really don’t enjoy hanging out that much.

Then when asked about the longevity of their relationship (they have been performing together almost 40 years) he said they had a great deal of respect for each other’s abilities. He said their relationship was based on respect and because of that it lasted. If they had based it on their liking each other it may not have every happened. The quote was “affection fades but respect lasts.”

I’d like to take his quote as the focus of this article. It may seem like a pessimistic quote when it comes to intimate relationships, but I don’t think so. And I agree with Penn. Affection fades. And respect lasts. Think about it. Respect is more of a choice. It is an attitude you take toward someone and is dependent only on how you choose to act. While you can choose to express affection even if it doesn’t feel right, affection is more attached to feelings and experiences with another person. I think in our approach to healthy relationship it would be good to keep that distinction.

Affection is something we want to get out of a relationship. But it isn’t the best foundation for a relationship. Feeling affection for someone comes and goes, dependent on recent experience both in and out of the relationship. If we think of affection as an outcome we want from our intimate relationships, and respect as a basic foundation, we are more likely to maintain affection in the long term. We will treat each other in ways that are more likely to create affectionate feelings.

The outcome Penn and Teller want from their relationship is creativity, good ideas, and an entertaining show. They have treated each other with respect and kept that going for almost forty years. I encourage you to make respect a bedrock of your relationship and see if you can create the outcomes you want for forty plus years.

While you are at it, why don’t you think about what you want from your relationship, and how respect might help make that happen. If you are willing to share I would be interested in hearing about what you want from your relationship. Send me an email at